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June 28, 2022

International Student Finds Balance Between Middle East and Midwest Cultures

Al Amri Shares Story Through We Are Nebraska Internship
International Student Finds Balance Between Middle East and Midwest Cultures
Omar Al Amri, a senior from Ruwi, Oman, worked to find a balance between cultures while earning a degree in marketing at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He shared his experiences on stage as part of the We Are Nebraska internship.

Omar Al Amri dreamed of a life in America much like the movies and television shows he watched growing up in Oman. Coming to the U.S. to attend the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the senior marketing major focused on balancing the American culture he grew up seeing and his own Omani culture.

“I love experiencing Nebraska through my Omani eyes. I dream of a life in both worlds. I don’t want to change Nebraska to Oman, because I love Nebraska and Oman the way they are. For me, it is not about merging the cultures, but merging their individualities,” he said.

American pop culture became a staple in Al Amri’s life growing up in Ruwi. Before he realized it, figures like American comedian Kevin Hart, Canadian rapper Drake and even cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants began teaching him a new language.

“Whenever I watched any video, I would open Google Translate to search for any word I didn't know, without me trying to learn English, but trying to understand the joke. My purpose was having fun and understanding what the people say in movies and videos,” he said.

Al Amri chose to major in marketing due to his personality and persuasion skills. Soon he discovered a language barrier when trying to connect with peers.

“When you watch movies, you don't speak. You just listen, so my listening skills were way better than my verbal skills. I understood everything, but I couldn't talk a lot because I didn't really practice (speaking) English,” he said.

Between his courses and on-campus jobs, Al Amri gained more confidence in expressing himself.

“I had stopped watching movies because I was dating, driving a Mustang, working with many different people and speaking more English. Life felt like a movie,” Al Amri said. "You can't merge different cultures like clothing, ideas behaviors religion or food, because there are a lot of differences between them. It's hard for me, but I respect and love both Omani and American culture. I'm just in the middle of the two."

Talking with his family back home and friends from Oman at the university helped him remain connected to his culture. He also got involved with the Omani Students Association on campus.

“As a Muslim, college can be tough,” he explained. “I hold to the main roots to Omani culture – no pork, no alcohol and even with dating I have my limits, but those limits differ from Omani to Omani. I'm a Muslim, but I'm not as strict as some of my other friends,” he said.

International faculty, like Pinar Runnalls, assistant professor of practice in marketing, inspired Al Amri on the cultural balance and accomplishments someone from another country can achieve. A native of Turkey and former resident of Canada, Runnalls shared her experiences and background in class to provide new perspectives to her students.

Pinar Runnalls lecturing in a classroom.
A native of Turkey, Pinar Runnalls, assistant professor of practice, shared her experiences and insights with Al Amri.

"International students help local students 'open their eyes' to the world. They bring the international experience to the local students’ doorsteps and provide different viewpoints based on their backgrounds and real-life experiences,” she said. "It is always very rewarding to see the amazement in the classroom when students realize, in certain aspects, Turkey is just like the U.S. and in other instances where Canada couldn’t be more different than the U.S. This notion helps break students' biases, and they end up being more open to really thinking hard about what we learn in the class."

Al Amri also practiced communicating with others during the We Are Nebraska internship, a theatrical experience bringing a select group of university students together. Getting to know the other interns and growing more comfortable, Al Amri eventually shared his story publicly for many university and community audiences, as part of the internship.

“I feel like every person’s story is important, but different too. I learn from people and people learn from me, so I hope my story affects someone for the better,” he said.

Planning to attend graduate school after earning his marketing degree, Al Amri dreams of working in the U.S.

“I believe my future moving forward is with my Omani roots but expanding them in America. I have a lot of work to do to make that happen. That’s why I am not really watching movies these days. I’m focusing on my own movie where I find a way to live in the Midwest and the Middle East at the same time. That’s my kind of balance,” Al Amri said.

International students interested in studying in the College of Business to earn their undergraduate degree can learn more at: https://business.unl.edu/internationalstudents.